The Politics of Possibility

Speaker: Prof Louise Amoore # Durham University

10th Feb 2014

15:30 - 17:00

Conference Room, David Hume Tower


The life signature has become a ubiquitous technique in forensic science – in particular, DNA’s ‘life signatures’ as the residue of a life’s elements left behind in body, object or trace. However, the technique of the gathering of life signatures of many kinds – data on the mundane minutiae of daily life – has become a mode of governing the mobility of people and objects in circulation. Intensified movement, it is thought, multiplies the possibilities for the gathering of life signatures – increased mobility becoming uniquely aligned with the promise of security. And so, sovereignty and security encounter one another anew, as fragmented elements of a life are arrayed in order to infer a possible future threat.

The appeal to a multi-layered mosaic of data elements of life – from biometrics and travel patterns to financial transactions – becomes the basis of a politics of possibility. As Michel Foucault put it, there is the “emergence of a completely different problem”, one that is concerned not with “the fixing and demarcating of territory”, but with “allowing circulations to take place, sifting the good and the bad” (2007: 65). Strict probabilistic calculation is driven out by such sifting, even the least probable fragments becoming valued as possibilities. Like the Monte Carlo fallacy, in which a series of values does not change the probability of a future outcome (a run of even numbers in a series of throws of the dice does not make an odd more likely on the next throw, for example), the assembly of improbable, imprecise or chance elements does not render the overall inference more certain.  And yet, whilst improbable in the singular, arrays of life signatures become actionable as security devices, as though their gathering together reduced the residual doubt.


Speaker Biography

Louise Amoore is Professor of Political Geography at Durham University. Her work focuses on the changing shape of security and sovereignty, and particularly on technological devices that take part in security decisions. From 2012- 2015 she is RCUK Global Uncertainties Fellow, working on a project called ‘Securing Against Future Events’. Her new book ‘The Politics of Possibility’ has just been published by Duke University Press – she will talk about some of the themes of that book today.